Originally published April 29, 2013.
Reprinted in the July 8, 2013 issue.
The exploration of opportunities by leadership in the PC(USA) may well be in accordance with action taken by the 2012 General Assembly, but in regard to the recommendation from the Middle East Peacemaking Committee #15 which spent the most time with this issue at that meeting, it is only half the equation. The committee voted by a 3-1 margin to couple positive investment with divestment from companies that profit from non-peaceful pursuits in Palestine. One cannot possibly work without the other, and the well-informed committee that sent the recommendation to the floor knew this. The committee’s recommendation was upended by an ill-informed minority report (and it was a very small minority of a large committee) by only 2 votes on the plenary floor.
The denomination is now in the unenviable position of supporting positive investment while profiting from investments in companies that are clearly
supporting the occupation of Palestine in a most harmful manner. One must also ask if the leadership working on this project even understand what “investment” actually means. Our denomination has been supporting education in Palestine for a very long time, and we call that “mission.” It is misleading to call such efforts investments, when clearly our expectation is not to return a profit, but provide more funds for decent and
humane ends in the midst of unconscionable oppression. We will learn the hard way in regard to investment in renewable energy. Europeans have already learned that investing in such things as solar panels and water cisterns in Palestine, only to have the Israeli military dismantle those projects immediately, is a fruitless endeavor until the matrix of occupation is completely dismantled. Micro-finance is a great effort, and is a very positive endeavor, but in regard to achieving justice in Palestine it makes a difference in only a relatively small percentage of Palestinian lives and is neither far-reaching nor prophetic.
Tom Taylor summed up why real investors will not touch Palestine when he pointed out that “creative investments” will require an increased degree of risk. Real investors minimize, rather than maximize, their risk. If our leadership wants to take a gamble with Presbyterian money, power to them. It is doubtful those in the secular world will follow that lead, however. Unless that happens, no real impact will be made. Palestine is too
unstable by virtue of military occupation for big money to take notice. The good news is that Palestinians know their own creativity and capabilities, and what they are telling us is that all they need is for occupation and severe restrictions to be taken away and they will succeed. We should believe them enough to do something substantive in the name of our God of justice and not seek bandage solutions to keep those in support of the status quo in Palestine … happy. It has been said by a number of significant Palestinians leaders regarding positive investment: “Do not decorate our prison. Help us dismantle occupation and watch what we can do.”
Here is what our church and anyone interested in positive investment needs to know: It’s the occupation! It is contradictory to say that we as a denomination are for positive investment while at the same time we are profiting from the non-peaceful pursuits of Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions as their products and presence support an occupation branded illegal by all credible international courts and organizations.
Here is what was interesting about the General Assembly plenary debate on the overwhelming committee recommendation to divest from these companies: No one actually argued that these companies were not doing significant damage to Palestine, its people and its economy. The argument had to do with how willing we were to make Presbyterian employees of these companies uncomfortable and mad at their church.
So this is how we equate the justice of Jesus Christ in our church today? Our top priority is to not make any members mad even though we know that we are engaged in unjust profiteering? Has our paranoia about losing members and revenue at the national level become so profound that we are willing the look the other way in the face of immoral corporate behavior? Shame on us.
Jeffrey DeYoe is the advocacy chairperson of the Israel Palestine Mission Network, PC(USA).